Jay Leno Reviews 1964 Honda S600 Frankenstein Rat Rod: Video
Honda’s made its fair share of sports cars over the years; giant killers with a reputation for taking on the biggest boys in Europe with Japanese power, poise and practicality. You’ll probably remember best the most recent of Honda’s almighty go-karts, the S2000 that went out of production in 2009. It’s been the darling of tuners and hot-rodders for more than a decade, a kind of "man’s car" to the Mazda Miata’s...not that. But modern S-Series Hondas aren’t the only ones attracting builders and turning heads — case in point this sick, rat-rodded 1964 S600.
If the tiny S600 seems slightly familiar, it’s because you’ve probably seen a perfectly restored stocker featured on Jay Leno’s Garage. This car is that Honda’s evil twin. Built for (as the owner claims) "around $5,000," the faded-and-rust-red S600 here is a true Frankenstein of motorcycle power, BMW drivetrain, Mazda suspension and just a bit of classic Honda sheetmetal on top.
This little beast might not have the looming presence of, say, a Viper — but its howling 12,000 rpm exhaust note certainly makes the point that bad things can come in the smallest packages.
Continue reading for the full story.
First, for the, purists: Relax. Owner Matt Brown didn’t hack a barn-kept beauty and slather it with faux patina. He found the S600 pretty much as you see it now, minus an engine, drivetrain, interior and everything else that might qualify it as "a car." He never says exactly how much he paid for it, but the words "dirt cheap" did come up. About the only thing he did to alter the look at all was to add a roll bar behind the driver’s seat. Apparently, the wife wasn’t too fond of her husband doing minivan duty without a head, and Matt wanted something at least as safe as the Dodge Viper he owned previously.
About the only thing he did to alter the look at all was to add a roll bar behind the driver seat.
Viper? Yes, indeed. Matt’s last ride was that pinnacle of 10-cylinder fury, a car which must easily have outsized and outweighed the S600 by two to one. And out-powered Jay’s original by six to one. Matt had a long way to go to scratch that kind of speed itch with this tiny, 50-year-old rust bucket.
The video opens with a scene of the S600 howling down the road, and there’s no mistaking the foul deeds afoot from the sound of its exhaust. Opening the hood reveals the Honda’s new heart: a complete 160-horsepower engine and sequential transmission from a 2006-2007 Honda CBR1000RR superbike. Where the engine originally sat transversly at a 28-degree incline in the bike, it now faces proudly forward courtesy of a custom adapter that mates the original Honda transmission to a BMW two-piece driveshaft. That driveshaft links to a BMW rear end, which in turn (by way of two more adapters) connects to a pair of Mazda Miata axle shafts.
The chassis from the axle shafts out, including the front suspension, is almost pure Miata. As is the steering, and everything else that makes the car turn and stop. The only exceptions are the motorcycle front and rear shocks, which you’ll notice aren’t oriented vertically as in the Miata. They’re horizontal and pushrod actuated. That was probably mostly a concession to fitting them under the Honda’s short panels, but couldn’t have hurt handling response any. All in all then, this "Honda" might best be thought of as a Mazda Miata, only 30 percent smaller, with pushrod suspension and 50 percent more horsepower.
Sorry — not 50 percent. Make that about 100 percent more horsepower, after the nitrous system Matt dropped in on top of the 160 horsepower he already had.
Bench-racing then, this S600 should be good for about 4.5 seconds to 60 mph, mid 12-second quarter-mile times and a 180-plus mph top speed.
For perspective: On motor alone, Matt’s approximately 1,600-pound "S1000" (as he calls it) beats the newest S2000’s power-to-weight ratio by about 0.75 pounds per horsepower. With the nitrous system on, it’s about 1 pound per horsepower off a Nissan GT-R, and dead even with a brand new Porsche 911 Carrera. Bench-racing then, this S600 should be good for about 4.5 seconds to 60 mph, mid 12-second quarter-mile times and a 180-plus mph top speed. At least, 180 mph for anyone suicidal enough to try it in a car whose wheelbase is almost as short as its driver is tall.
Somehow, that roll-bar’s starting to look awful flimsy.
But that’s about the only thing about this car that’s flimsy. From the sick pushrod suspension to its stout frame and burly street-racer stance, the S1000 looks fully ready to rumble and nigh indestructable. If anything, it’s somehow more manly than the S2000. Or at least much more serious looking. Squint a little, and you could almost imagine the S1000 as a two-thirds scale Shelby Cobra. Appropriate, since both Honda and Shelby’s first sports cars shared the same roads in 1964.
That might be doing a disservice to Matt’s rat-rod Frankenstein, though. It’s no American bruiser; it’s no Cobra, and quite a long way from the Viper Matt once drove. Insert irony here. Spiritually, the S1000 is as Japanese as the rising sun — as sharp and nimble as a wakisashi, and as brutally capable as Miyamoto Musashi on his best day. Now, 50 years on, this Honda is as much a giant killer it ever was.
And it definitely looks the part, too.